If I had known about what this story was about I never would have read it. This is not to say that I didn’t like it, I loved it and I would even go so far as to say that it feels like a ‘sacred book’. A young and innocent woman walks the reader through her most intimate moments and private thoughts. However I do feel like Sylvia some how tricked me out of my own innocents in reading this. I could feel her playing with my mind as I read it and twice I considered abandoning the book. The first was in regard to its prevalent quality of suicide fantasy; I have been suicidal for most of my life and not only that I also liked the character and so I didn’t want her to die. The second was for a private reason. But each time I felt inclined to finish reading the book because I felt as though I made a deal with Sylvia.
My fascination with Sylvia began years ago. I read her poem ‘Daddy’ and in reading it I was both baffled and awe-struck, like a prehistoric human who just got their first glimpse of fire. I wanted to continue reading and studying her poems but casually reading them off the internet felt inappropriate. So I put her name on my book list and decided I might at some point consider buying one of her books. Since then I’ve had several dreams about her since and in one we casually spoke in a curious dialect: https://theunicornnightmare.com/2017/01/22/in-honor-of-sylvia/
When I did at long last find myself at the books store with the intent of purchasing Ariel I found that she had also written a Novel and resolved that I should buy both and read the Novel first and save the poetry for after. My understanding of poetry is quite rudimentary and so I thought that reading her prose might help me better appreciate and understand the literary devices of her poems. Its a good thing I did this too because her use of language is like a rapier; if you have only read a poem or two her words seem fluttery, even superfluous and of course she has been emulated by every feminist poet since but this is a woman who undeniably poured her life into her work and it reads as such.
I suppose I am biased because Sylvia and in this case Victoria jumped out at me from the book as a character reflection of myself despite our different gender roles. The time that she describes breathes as open meadow air through our modern reek of silicon based social media. What I read from the book was that Sylvia had formed a couple variations of her self which needed validation. The book was about Esther Greenwood who wanted to become Elly Higginbottom, which was published as Victoria Lucas and written by Sylvia Plath. From a writers perspective this works because it allows the author to be very candid about her most private thoughts while simultaneously allowing her to distance her self and filter off her own negativity. Why does a writer create a character in the first place? Indeed why does a #schizophrenic set about forming a new personality? It would seem to express ones personal issues from a one sided way and thereby assigning ones personal baggage to another identity. Writing a story is actually one of the best ways to do this. I don’t mean to be so plain about such pure and wholesome talent I only mean to point out that that is what writing is for and Sylvia evidently did it well although it is debatable as to whether her abilities added to her earthly happiness.
As I already stated I twice considered abandoning the book. I looked up the book on wikipedia shortly after buying because I couldn’t find a table of contents. I had bought The Bell Jar on a whim and suddenly began to regret it because I didn’t realize how closely it was composed to her own suicide at the age of thirty. I winced with the turn of every page dreading what was sure to be and awful end. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to conflict myself with that because I knew she would affect me but I resolved that I would be betraying her if I stopped reading. I didn’t want to be just another person who abandoned her. Esther seemed to be surrounded by shallow people who don’t care about her; like when she is in the the magazine office and she bursts into tears and everyone just leaves the room abandoning her there to cry alone. I’ve had similar luck and experiences with humans. It seems like from the very beginning I always had a very clear image of Sylvia’s quite refrain. I sort of imagine her as a big sister who is always more clever than you are and likes to watch you from a distance as you make a fool of your self once or twice before she intervenes and silently helps you in a gentle big sisterly sort of way.
The book is about virginity and for me this is a subject I have avoided my entire life. I twice opted out of deflowering an eligible female and so in writing this review there is a lot of stuff I wont talk about because again; its sort of a sacred book and serves the noble purpose of educating men on how to be more of a gentleman. At the same time because of its subject matter its not really a book I would recommend to just anyone. Sylvia is a nearly impossible creature, she reads so fragile and wilting that you hardly recognize the stoic Amazon underneath. Sylvia’s writing hints at some incredibly potent existential elements, mythology, alter-ego, self harm, mental illness, her character is an unreliable narrator at times but in the inverse way one would expect from typical egoic expression. For instance the character Joan recognizes Esther in a magazine pictorial but Esther insists she is ‘quite mistaken’ insisting the model is not her; which is true in a manner of speaking because it was likely implied to be Elly’s picture from a time when Esther was beside herself. This is not to say that the author was truly schizophrenic but only to assert that Sylvia harbored an interest in the concept of fluid identity which is evident in her chain of names.
Over all the novel was indeed depressing because shortly after having it published Sylvia self immolated herself presumably with the same flame that she owed her brilliance. She was apparently going to write another book called Double Exposure but according to rumor it vanished shorty after she passed. She was only thirty and was already such an accomplished writer capable of scathing honesty and brilliant literary nudity:
I looked to Joan. In spite of the creepy feeling, and in spite of my old, ingrained dislike, Joan fascinated me. Like observing a Martian, or a particularly warty toad. Her thoughts were not my thoughts, nor her feelings my feelings, but we were close enough so that her thoughts and feelings seemed a wry blackened image of my own.
This level and quality of mental nudity is rarely seen from any kind of author and when it is its usually unwelcome and unwarranted but in this case Sylvia is openly offering us a look into her own boundaries and limits where even her existing shallowness is profound in its own way. Elly, Esther, Victoria are obviously all reflections of Sylvia and it would seem in adopting these identities the author would appear to only be adding to their own loneliness. Some people have written about this claiming its about lesbian relationships and repressed feelings and those elements are approached but I don’t really think these necessarily explain the purpose of the story. It’s clear that Sylvia’s fatal flaw is her inability to stop thinking. If we think of each of her identities as a cup and she through writing has poured herself out for us to drink, then we can begin to understand her story’s purpose. She lies in bed night after night, her bedeviled mind considering every ugly possibility of the following day. Over thinking is the source of all her problems. As she lays down to sleep her beleaguered mind considers all the ways she might end her life. Her star-reaching soul has substituted dreaming with these haggard and tired thought frequencies making the quality of “sleep” she gets incredibly poor. So by burning the candle at both ends with compulsive thinking she is constantly placing and replacing her self in the center of her own gloom.
I know that everyone who reads Sylvia always claims to be her biggest fan, everyone who reads her always claims to understand her better than anyone else and I actually kind of avoided her because of this. I don’t feel bad in saying that the opinions of pretentious feminists don’t mean much to me. But despite the novel being forlorn I really do trust in her magic; perhaps Robert William Chambers said it best: “Your Sylvia is not my Sylvia; the world is wide and Elven is not unknown.” I am just glad I didn’t give her up and I am so grateful I got to read and dream with her.
For some reason out of all her pictures the following one scares me worst of all. As a rule I have never intentionally looked at gore pics online and I have always made a point of not looking at the picture of her in the oven. She already haunts me and the last thing I want to be is on her bad side but her silent intensity seems to have especially burned through the film in this one. I imagine this is how she looked when she imagined sending Irwin the bill.